The last several weeks have been tough for Payten Bayne, a senior at Rockingham County High School. Relegated to her home because of the coronavirus pandemic, she is trying to stay busy and positive, but Bayne cannot help but reflect on all she is missing.

“I miss my friends and getting to see them and spending time with them,” she said.

She also misses softball and her teammates.

“I miss going to practice every day and creating memories with them,” she said. “This was my last year to play ball, and that was stripped from me.”

Bayne chose art as a way to express the emotions she and her senior peers are feeling during this unprecedented time.

The second week after school was canceled due to the coronavirus, Bayne started contemplating ideas for her high school advanced art class COVID-19 assignment. The result is a piece that has gone viral, garnering attention and awe from the public and news media. Titled “2020,” her art has become a community-wide symbol of the roller coaster of emotions high school and college seniors are facing.

Her piece, a pencil drawing, depicts a young girl in her graduation cap and gown, but this is not an ordinary graduation project.

“The cap and gown shows that the girl is a senior graduating this year, the mask shows how COVID-19 is affecting seniors’ last year of school, and the tears show how the seniors are feeling during this time,” Bayne said.

After Bayne’s mother, Michelle Bayne, shared her daughter’s artwork on Facebook, it immediately went viral. A representative from Rockingham County Schools saw the piece and asked to share it on the school system’s website, and before she knew it, she started gaining attention and encouraging words from the public, as well as local media.

“I would describe it as a girl graduating in the class of 2020 who has been ripped of her senior year and is scared of what’s to come,” Bayne said when asked how she would describe her creation. “I never really expected it (the drawing) to blow up like it did.”

A self-described artist who has been taking art classes for years, Bayne said color pencil drawing is her favorite medium.

“I love to see the way my art affects people,” she said. “I love to see them smile when they look at my work, and it just seems to bring them joy.”

She has entered numerous local art contests and won several first place prizes.

Rockingham County High art teacher Leigh Ann Cross describes Bayne as a hard worker and task driver, a student who puts 100% of herself into her work and doesn’t quit until tasks are complete.

“As an artist, Payten is a master at color pencil; I have never seen any student with a shading technique like hers,” Cross said. “The majority of her art is realistic, and she draws inspiration and expands on it with her own personal flair.”

Bayne’s graduation piece was part of an assignment called Art Dates, assignments where students treat themselves to art for fun, without rules or expectations.

“I sent out a Google Form earlier that week to write a one-word explanation of how COVID-19 makes them feel — her word was ‘crushed,’ which to know Payten just killed me,” Cross said. “Payten has a fun, bubbly personality, and she is always up to some kind of shenanigans, although never anything malicious or mean.”

Cross said her first reaction when she saw Bayne’s work was, “Perfect.”

“Her word was ‘crushed,’ and that’s exactly what she illustrated, however I also felt a loss, as this image is not Payten’s personality,” Cross said. “It is obvious how much she and all her peers are hurting — not the way they should spend their senior year.”

Bayne said she is learning to adjust but said everything seems like a waiting game now.

“Although I’m scared of what’s to come, I try to look past it and try to enjoy this time with my family,” she said. “I hope everything will end soon, and we can go back to normal, and if we don’t get to walk across the stage (to graduate), I still have seeing my friends to look forward to.”

She has also kept herself busy fishing, playing outside with her dogs and doing various art projects.

Bayne plans to attend Rockingham Community College after high school.

“My hopes for Payten, as well as all my students, is that art will always be a part of their lives,” Cross said. “Of course, I would love to see them find a career in the arts, but if nothing else, hopefully they will continue to create.”

Jennifer Atkins Brown writes every other Sunday for this section. Contact her at jennifer.brown@greensboro.com.

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